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No fear: Ōpotiki teachers and students attended gang leader’s tang

Maioha Panapa

Ōpotiki teachers and students attended gang leader’s tangi

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

An iwi leader says many Māori students attended the tangihanga of a gang leader in Ōpotiki.

Media reported schools closed and students were kept at home due to safety concerns over the large gang presence in the town, after the death of Steven Taiatini, the Mongrel Mob Barbarians president.

Ōpotiki College cited the “close proximity” of the tangi was one reason for its closure, and Ōpotiki Primary School said “safety and wellbeing” was a factor.

However, some students and teachers would have been absent from school anyway, as they were attending the tangi.

Te Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board member Te Kahautu Maxwell says Māori students and school teachers in Ōpotiki had relatives in Black Power and Mongrel Mob gangs and shared whakapapa (family ties).

Maxwell says many Māori students attended the tangihanga because “cultural obligations dictate the action we take”.

The decision to close schools was made by their boards, which the iwi supported. Maxwell was aware of criticism about schools doing so, but this was from outside the Ōpotiki community.

The trust board gave its full support to all parties, police, gangs and hapū, to keep the peace.

Taiatini, 45, died after what police had reported was a “disorder-related incident” on St John St, Ōpotiki, last Friday. Police have started a homicide investigation and say Taiatini died after being run down by a ute.

A burned-out ute has been linked to the investigation.

About 100 extra police were brought into Ōpotiki during the tangi, due to hundreds of gang members attending.

On Wednesday, a large funeral procession brought the town to a standstill.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and National leader Christopher Luxon were critical, with Hipkins saying “gang convoys suck for everybody who is disrupted by them”.

Luxon told Newshub that Ōpotiki had been “overtaken” by a gang after Taiatini’s death.

However, Rawiri Waititi, MP for Waiariki , said the pair needed to “shut their mouths”.

“They know nothing about Te Whakatōhea, they know nothing about the situation, and they certainly know nothing about our people; our whānau and iwi members who also happen to be affiliated to gangs.”

Earlier, Puwhakamua rehabilitation programme founder Billy Macfarlane Snr said Taiatini’s death was a tragedy and he needed to be acknowledged for the “good stuff he’s done”.

“He’s worked seriously hard to help make changes in the methamphetamine harm space. He and his partner, Pauline, have done a lot of work even in Rotorua.”

Macfarlane said regardless of Taiatini’s gang connections, he had “done many good things”.

“That stuff doesn’t go away.”

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